American Composers Orchestra

American Composers Orchestra

The idea to create ACO originated in 1975 when composer Francis Thorne and Dennis Russell Davies were discussing plans for the 40th anniversary of the American Composers Alliance. As Davies recalls, “We started talking about the fact that American orchestras don’t play much American music, and that led to the idea of an orchestra that would fill that gap.” Davies agreed to serve as principal conductor and music advisor. The orchestra, which was assembled from New York’s top musicians with expertise in contemporary music, held its inaugural concert in February 1977 at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center.

ACO moved to its current home at Carnegie Hall for its 10th anniversary season. Among the distinguished artists who have appeared with ACO are Leonard Slatkin, Michael Tilson Thomas, Laurie Anderson, Leonard Bernstein, Itzhak Perlman, André Watts, Jamie Barton, the Imani Winds, and Emanuel Ax.

The Orchestra’s commissioning program is acknowledged as the leading program of its kind, generating more new American symphonic works since its commencement than any other. ACO has distinguished itself by providing many composers with their first orchestral commissions, among them Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Joseph Schwantner, both of whom received the Pulitzer Prize for their ACO-commissioned work.

ACO has produced a number of extraordinary initiatives featuring concerts, commissions, master classes, symposia, community dialogues and professional development activities. From 1999 to 2001, 20th-century Snapshots celebrated the millennium with an 11-concert chronicle of American themes. From 1994 to 1999, Sonidos de las Américas, six one-week festivals extended ACO’s mandate to include the music of Latin America. ACO also produced Coming to America: Immigrant Sounds/Immigrant Voices in 2000, an exploration of the evolution of American music through the work of immigrant composers.

ACO convened Orchestra Tech, a National Conference on Technology and the Orchestra, in 2001, which became an ongoing program to encourage the creation, performance, and development of music that unites orchestral forces with new technology. In 2004, the Improvise! Festival encouraged the integration of improvisation and the orchestra.

In October 2011 and October 2015, the orchestra produced SONiC: Sounds of a New Century, a landmark festival of 21st century music created by composers age 40 and under. The festivals featured an astounding 125 composers, with 16 ensembles and 14 performances in nine days. SONiC performances were broadcast and webcast around the globe, and the festival was highlighted by several press outlets as one of the top musical events of the year.

ACO’s professional development initiatives include the annual Underwood New Music Readings and Commission and in 2008, it expanded on the success of its New Music Readings to launch EarShot, the first-ever national partnership created to strengthen and support orchestras in their commitment to up-and-coming American composers and their music.

In 1999, ACO launched an innovative educational program that places composers in schools, teaching students about music by allowing them to create their own. ACO’s educational activities now reach students throughout New York City.

In 2005, ACO established a new multi-year residency at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania that continued through 2010. The residency brought ACO outside of New York City for the first time in two decades, with a series of concerts, new music readings, and educational and outreach activities.

On January 31, 2012, ACO performed a landmark concert celebrating the 75th birthday of quite possibly our nation’s most renowned American composer, Philip Glass. Featuring the U.S. premiere of Glass’ Symphony No. 9, the concert marked ACO’s much-anticipated return to Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium.

ACO has 25 recordings available on ARGO, MusicMasters, CRI, ECM, Point, Tzadik, Nonesuch, Phoenix USA, and New World labels Records. ACO performances have been broadcast on American Public Radio, National Public Radio, and Voice of America. In 2009, ACO commenced an online audio initiative with, Amazon and iTunes, making recordings of ACO’s groundbreaking Orchestra Underground programs available worldwide. ACO’s digital album, Orchestra Underground: X10D, was released in June 2012. In 2016, ACO released SONiC Double Live, a collection of orchestral premieres drawn from American Composers Orchestra’s ground-breaking 2011 SONiC Festival of 21st century music written by composers 40 and under.

Among the honors ACO has received are a special award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a proclamation from the New York City Council, and the American Music Center’s Letter of Distinction “for unique dedication to the music of American composers.” BMI has honored ACO for its outstanding contribution to American music. ACO has been awarded the ASCAP annual prize for adventurous programming 35 times, and has been singled out by ASCAP as “the orchestra that has done the most for new American music in the United States.”

Albums Featuring this Artist